Why does Police Brutality Exist?
“…As Hip Hop legend Jay Z has said, “Men lie and women lie, but numbers don’t.” Nor do numbers lie concerning Black death by white hands. According to the 2012 “Operation Ghetto Storm” report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, statistics taken between January and June of that year demonstrated that a “Black person was killed every 36 hours by white police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes.”
Disturbing data like this compels the intelligent and concerned among us to ponder why Black lives in so-called “post-racial America are still criminalized and devalued. All across this country, Black people seething with righteous indignation are protesting and discussing how to protect ourselves from agents of the American police state (the second part of this series will focus on this issue.)
Concerning this question of resolution, I’ve heard and read intelligent and well-meaning Black folk offer the same traditional approaches we always hear regarding police brutality: Marches, demonstrations, rallies, protests, teach-ins, filming police, police sensitivity training, clinics on how to cooperate with and peacefully engage police, and the like. While I am not completely resistant to these strategies, I am admittedly skeptical. I am inclined to believe that our wholehearted and patriotic devotion to such methods reeks of naivete.
.Somehow we have come to believe that murderous and repressive police are acting outside of their official duties. And this is where we are wrong. The first intelligent step toward ending or at least effectively neutralizing police brutality is to understand the sociopolitical role and function of police in the United States.
Understanding the true role of police in our nation requires that we know the true history of police forces in this country. Mainstream scholars of police history spin the narrative that America inherited its idea of policing from Britain in the form of constables and night watchmen. According to most accounts, early forms of public policing began first in Boston (1636), then New York City (1651), and then Philadelphia (1705). As populations grew and territories became more industrial and based on specialized labor, other cities adopted volunteer and later professional and more organized police departments.
This history is factually accurate, but does not explain the political and sociological function of police in modern society. For this, we must dig a little deeper and examine the development of police institutions in the early South. As you will see, this history helps us understand why police brutality is a mandated, deliberate, and organic part of our society.
The advent of police departments, if we trace its southern origins, began with slave patrols in the colonies and later states of America. As revealed in the article, “The History of Policing in the United States: Part I,”
Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules. Following the Civil War…”; read full article on Author’s site
About the Author: Agyei Tyehimba